The Caucasian Rock Circle

Despite a safe lineup and a sedate atmosphere, this year's City Link Music Fest did have its moments

"Whole lotta kielbasa going on," noted one hipster-doofus spectator Friday, December 7, at Miami's Polish American Club, where the scent of porky goodness had permeated even the old living-room furniture out in the lobby. But the sausages flying out of the kitchen on paper plates weren't the reason we'd come to check out "Playtime," an evening of indigenous art and bands both local (Panda Bite, See Venus) and national, in particular Baltimore trio OXES. After taking a brief on-stage nap, drummer Prison made sure the house lights stayed up. Perched atop a tall black box, Dr. Windsor Castle (left guitar), ominously announced to the crowd: "Right now, you have no idea what the fuck's going on. But in a few seconds, you will be forcing your way to the front of the stage." New York City (right guitar), a dead ringer for Jim Varney Jr., howled his Cookie Monster-caught-in-a-garbage-disposal approval, and OXES were off.

Instantly, their identical-twin, wireless, custom-made, aircraft-aluminum guitars ignited a blast of upside-down AC/DC riffs that spun like deranged dust devils from the identical Marshall amps. The guitarists crusaded off the stage to conquer the crowd, which spasmed with appreciation.

The next act, Of Montreal -- from Athens, Georgia -- did not provoke the same glee. Leader Kevin Barnes, a former West Palm Beach resident, hadn't strummed a set this far south since a 1994 in-store appearance at the Wormhole. With Barnes's bandmates helping flesh out his "la-la-las" and "ba-ba-ba-bops" now, Of Montreal isn't the flashiest show horse in the Kindercore stable of geeky pop bands -- nor the most musical -- but the in-jokes about a visit to Barnes's mom and a good-night kiss of the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" sorta made up for that.

Tough as it was for Bandwidth to pull away from the fuse-blowing, breaker-tripping Trans Am, the City Link Music Festival beckoned us to downtown Hollywood. After finding parking just blocks from Young Circle, we noticed that the streets didn't look much busier than on a normal December Friday. Or maybe it just seemed that way, since the festival was spread so thin (11 venues, some separated by blocks), eliminating the congestion of years past but sacrificing the communal feeling. There were still stumbling, two-fisted drinkers to avoid, but fewer per square yard. Many reportedly started clearing out by 11 p.m. -- right about the time Himmarshee Village ignites the afterburners.

The lineup for the weekly's inaugural Hollywood music fest was deliberately conservative, probably in response to last year's event, which wrapped up with a few arrests and some minor bloodshed. So, of course, nothing as crazy as Laundry Room Squelchers or Mary Tyler Whores. Death Becomes You? "They said no way, dude," complains drummer Christopher Lee. But for every Wicked Screaming Squirt missing in action, a Grant Livingston or Marie Nofsinger was there to make it all better.

The $10 needed to procure a wristband for the ten-hour bash might have made it less practical for fans to attend, since most of the popular groups that performed regularly play free shows (or, at most, $6 shows) around town. That explains why a band like Hepcat Boo Daddies saw no more folks at the Tobacco Road Main Stage than they would've on a typical Friday night at the Poor House.

By 2 a.m. over at Shukums, it was easy to grab a seat at the same bar where the notorious Hollywood hijackers supped (and argued over their bill) just before their September 11 blaze of infamy. The wait staff seemed the only people in the room immune to yawns when the Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice demonstrated how far they've come in the last two years. Soon it became difficult if not impossible not to succumb to the holiday spirit with the joyous "Santa Claus Is Coming to Rape Your Wife," and the Sally Jesse-ready "Your Sister Stole My Girlfriend."

Yawns at Shukum's changed to shit-eating smiles when the Mowers' loving ode to marijuana -- "that dangerous gateway drug!" -- arrived. "When I get home, I take a big bong hit!" singer/bassist Chris DeAngelis sang with a smile, finally throwing caution to the wind and admitting "I like weed/ It makes me happy!" Down the street, a freakish lad working a booth smiled in synchronicity at his assortment of handblown glass pipes -- it's harvest time in Broward County.

A block away at Try My Thai, a candlelit service was adjourning as the Necrophiles tried out their surf-goth version of the Sesame Street theme on the eight stragglers in the room. Around the corner at Sneakers, the rank odor of fresh vomit still held the air hostage. Something like that mixture of half-digested stomach contents and gastric juices was making a mess on-stage, though no one could say (or wanted to take responsibility for) what it was, exactly. An apparent regular in a backward baseball cap bought the impromptu collective an unrequested and unacknowledged beer as an unidentified woman (someone at the door called her a street straggler) caterwauled through her one and only chance at the big time. Pretty awful. But at well past 4 a.m., she could be forgiven.

The streets sure seemed empty then as the last beer cup was tossed in the trash -- a far cry from Himmarshee's ever-blazing stampede -- although as Bandwidth squinted through the hydroponic haze, it wasn't hard to imagine that one day, the festival will grow to fill its new britches.

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